What always baffled me about Tony Veitch’s return to the airwaves is why Radio Sport considered it worth the effort. Surely, there must have been an equally talented ‘larakin’ with good commentary, banter, and man cave prizes who hasn’t committed multiple acts of domestic violence over a five year period. Consider how much effort Radio Sport must invest on caller screening, online comment monitoring, and security at public appearances. One wrong comment could easily remind us of his past crimes and elicit the rattled response from Veitch that eventually occurred.
Radio Sport clearly thinks Veitch is worth the effort because a large segment of the public both loves him and/ or doesn’t care enough about his past. His expert sporting commentary and banter brings in ratings. John Key’s multiple appearances on his show indicates the public – even those who dislike Veitch’s actions – generally abides by his return.
His continued popularity symbolises a broader dilemma of the separation of consumer choice and personal ethics. To some degree, all of us appreciate the work of someone whose personal life contradicts our sense of right and wrong. We watch the films of Woody Allen but put aside both his marriage to his adopted daughter and gruesome allegations concerning another daughter, Dylan. Same with the photography of Terry Richardson and the music of Chris Brown, James Brown, and now Lou Reed. We readily justify our consumption through arguments such as being able to love the artist’s work and hate their personal life, citing their personal upbringing as a reason to be more understanding, or dismissing allegations entirely. With Veitch, the narrative tends to be ‘He apologised, gave her $100,000, spoke out against domestic violence, and lost his career; forgive and let him move on.’
Absolute separation of a person from their work is extremely difficult if there’s doubt. It’s difficult to listen to Lou Reed and not think ‘you allegedly beat up ex-girlfriends and called Bob Dylan a ‘pretentious kike’.’ Washing away the foul taste requires the ethical equivalent of downing a 1.5 litre Coke in 30 seconds. We pain ourselves into quickly ignoring and supressing our concerns for our fulfilment. Instead, we often reserve our righteous anger for the trivial. In Veitch’s case, consider many sports fans still fume over decades-long feuds: Australian underarm bowling, All Blacks food poisoning in South Africa, or Russell Coutts’ defection from Team New Zealand to Oracle. An ethical consumer approach isn’t the solution as it cannot end physical, sexual, or mental violence. The aforementioned celebrities are ultimately dependent on their loyal fan-bases. Besides, we’re not merely the sum of our bad deeds and if we express remorse for wrongs, take punishment, and change our ways we are capable of at least some forgiveness – unless you’re Jimmy Savile. The only satisfaction that both sides of this debate can have is that, as celebrities, they will always be both publically loved but also reviled. They’ve chosen to continue in the public limelight so must accept the good and the bad. Veitch could have chosen any number of career paths after his fall but he had to go and choose THAT one, the price being continued pot shots for the remainder of his broadcasting career.
Greater understanding could be gained if we acknowledge these hypocrisies. If we could admit that we all sometimes prioritise some form of cultural attainment over ethics for self-interest, we’d more easily understand that media outlets’ more baffling choices tend to mirror our own.